The M16 and AK-47 are the most recognizable assault rifles in the world. For more than 50 years there are questions which one is better? M16 vs AK-47? Those assault rifles are on the opposite sides for decades and at some point, they were representing East and West.
The history of an assault rifle dramatically changed in World War II and its aftermath. It is essentially a hybrid of submachine guns and rifles. Before that submachine gun was a weapon of choice for most militaries of that time.
The AK-47 (originally named as ‘Avtomat Kalashnikov’) was developed in 1947 and was first used by Soviet forces in 1949. The name ‘Kalashnikov’ is the surname of the rifle’s designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov. Since its introduction, it became the standard infantry weapon in service with the Soviet armed forces and their allies around the Eastern block.
This weapon was so successful, that it displaced all other firearms except pistols, machine guns, and sniper rifles. It’s considered the most produced assault rifle in modern history.
The M16 is a more modern design. During the Vietnam War, the AK-47 earned the grudging respect of the American fighting man, even as his own M16 became the subject of controversy. That happened because Americans faced that their M14 battle rifle could not maintain superiority over the AK-47. A replacement was needed. Subsequently, a new AR-15 assault rifle, developed by Eugene Stoner was adopted in the early 1960s. It was designated the M16 and became the standard-issue infantry rifle with the US military.
Concept: East vs. West
The AK-47 was produced as a total war tool. Its ergonomic design, technology, and simplicity made it an Eastern block primary assault rifle. In fact, it is a low-tech weapon that is cheap to build in large numbers suitable for the countries of the Eastern block which were a lot less economically independent than their Western counterpart. The production of AK-47 can be easily established. The rifle is simple to operate and to maintain. Simplicity was the key to its success. The AK-47 is an easily operated rifle and it is perfectly suitable for poorly trained or untrained recruits.
The M16 is a different story. Its design and technology make M-16 a more modern and more advanced weapon than the AK-47. It has superior performance to the AK-47 but works best in the hands of a well-trained soldier, not really easy to use and maintain as AK-47 and therefore it’s not suitable for recruits and poorly trained soldiers.
Construction: M16 vs AK-47
As you may assume, the construction of the AK-47 and M16 reveals big differences between East and West. The AK-47 is a very simple and traditional weapon. It is of conventional design and uses common materials, such as steel and wood. It is made using readily available machining technology. The parts are manufactured with less precision. From an engineering standpoint, it is a low-tech weapon, but still very useful.
At the time of its introduction, the M16 was a very advanced weapon. The US Army demanded a lightweight weapon, easy to maintain, and with higher precision and a more powerful cartridge. It forced the designer of the M16 for radical advances in weapon construction. The M16 was made of lightweight materials. It used aluminum in place of steel and fiberglass in place of wood which makes it much lighter than AK-47.
+ The AK-47 has the advantage of simple construction.
Range: Which rifle is more precise?
The AK-47 assault rifle is chambered in 7.62 mm caliber. Its maximum effective range is limited to up to 400 meters. In fact, this weapon is not really meant to shoot at a range of more than 200 meters. Beyond that, it will hardly hit anything.
The M16 weighs half as much with the full magazine as the AK-47. It is because the rifle is chambered with a slimmer 5.56 mm bullet. This bullet travels really fast. As a result, the M16 is more has a longer range and is more accurate than the AK-47. Because of that, the M16 has a maximum effective range of 400-500 meters.
+ The M16 has a decisive advantage in the maximum effective range.
When it comes to accuracy, the M16 is a much more accurate weapon than the AK-47. M16 has less recoil and it is a much smoother-operating weapon which means it can be easier controlled during full-auto fire. The recoil of the M16 moves the weapon very little due to its internal design and the 5.56 mm caliber. Also, its buttstock is lined up with the barrel. This feature additionally reduces the muzzle climb.
On the other hand, the AK-47 is much heavier and poorly balanced with a more powerful cartridge. Because of its internal mechanism, the AK-47 recoil is slightly out of the center. Furthermore, the internal mechanisms of the AK-47 assault rifle are essentially big chunks of metal that move violently after each shot.
Also, this weapon has a traditional position of the buttstock (depends on version, fixed or foldable buttstock). All of these features combined cause muzzle climb after each shot. It makes the AK-47 very inaccurate during full-auto fire.
+ The M16 has an advantage in caliber which makes it a more accurate weapon, both in semi-auto and full-auto mode.
The AK-47 uses a 7.62mm round with a heavier bullet. It’s a bullet that is slower and less accurate. But its share power is indisputable. This weapon is superior in terms of penetration and stopping power.
On the other hand, the M16 uses a lighter 5.56 mm round. It has a slimmer bullet that travels faster. However, the punch of the M16 is not that strong, but as it is mentioned it is faster, more accurate, and with better range.
+ The AK-47 is superior in terms of penetration.
Ease of user and user experience
The AK-47 assault rifle was designed to be perfectly suitable for inexperienced users. Its controls are unsophisticated and this weapon is very simple to operate. Even children can easily use this weapon. The complete rifle system is made of 6 parts.
The M16 assault rifle is also an easy-to-use weapon but not so simple like it is with AK-47. However, troop training is required to operate and service this weapon properly.
+ The AK-47 has the advantage of being easier to use than the M16.
Field stripping is essential if the weapon jams or gets too dirty to use.
The AK-47 can be field stripped for cleaning within seconds without using any tools. It is made of 6 large parts. It can be assembled or disassembled with closed eyes. That makes AK-47 parts hard to lose in trenches or at night. The AK-47 is simple to maintain.
On the other hand, the M16 assault rifle is a much more complicated and sophisticated weapon. It is made of smaller parts and actually, because of its sophisticated design, the M16 is more prone to jamming.
+ The AK-47 is much easier to maintain.
As the US Military required a lightweight weapon, the low weight of the M16 was the driving emphasis of the whole design. The M16 benefits from lightweight materials in its construction. Also, it uses lighter rounds. As a result, the M16 can weigh around 30% less than the AK-47. It is more comfortable to carry around and the shooter can carry more of its ammunition. So a lighter weapon is better, especially if you are the guy that has to carry it. It is estimated that if a user of AK-47 carries on 6 mags, the operator with M16 can have 10 mags.
On the other hand, the AK-47 uses little weight saving methods.
+ The M16 is a lighter weapon.
The AK-47 is an enduring weapon with a robust design. It can take any misuses that soldier can throw at it. If the battle moves into hand-to-hand combat you can really smack your enemy with the AK-47s buttstock.
On the other hand, a fiberglass buttstock of the M16 is not durable as a wooden buttstock of the AK-47. So low overall weight of the weapon was a trade-off at this point.
+ The AK-47 is a more durable weapon.
The worst thing which might happen to a soldier is to have a jammed weapon in the middle of the battle.
The AK-47 is a very reliable weapon. It made itself such a reputation. The AK-47 relatively simple operating system with generous clearance between its moving parts makes it so successful. Despite it’s bad for accuracy, but the mechanism is not that prone to jamming. This assault rifle can function with little or no maintenance.
Clean or not it will fire, for damn sure. And AK-47 keeps on firing, no matter how foul, clogged, or dirty it gets. Even in the case of a stoppage, it can be easily fixed in field conditions without using any tools. The AK-47 has a malfunction rate of 1 per 1 000 rounds fired.
The M16 has a more complicated design and this weapon is more prone to jamming. In the jungles of Vietnam, this weapon had several problems. It appeared that the first M16 assault rifles were issued to troops without cleaning kits and instructions on how to look after this rifle. Also, the weapon used ammunition with a different powder mixture, it was not designed for. Later many problems were fixed and reliability problems decreased greatly. The M16 has a malfunction rate of 2 per 1 000 rounds fired.
+ The AK-47 is a more reliable weapon.
It seems that ergonomics was the last thing that bothered the developer of the AK-47. This weapon is poorly balanced. Also, its controls are not well thought-off and are stiff to operate. It takes more time to change the magazine on the AK-47 than on the M16.
On the other hand, the M16 was intended with ergonomics in mind. All of its controls are well designed, well-positioned, and easily used. Also, it has a built-in carrying handle on the top making it easier to carry. The M16 is considered one of the most ergonomic weapons in the world. In terms of ergonomics, it is superior to the AK-47 in most respects.
+ The M16 is superior in terms of ergonomics.
From the design of the sights, it is clear that the M16 was designed to be more accurate from the very start. The American assault rifle has a little ‘peep’ sight on the back that can be flipped for ‘short’ or ‘long’ range. The front post sight is called ‘bunny ears’. Similar sights are used by Americans since World War II.
The sights of the AK-47 are very crude. It is clearly not as good as that of the M16. It has an adjustable notch on the back that can be set to a range of up to 800 meters. However, it is more of a psychological boost for untrained recruits. In reality, the maximum range of effective fire is limited to 300-400 meters. Beyond that, it will hardly hit anything.
+ The M16 has better sights and better accuracy.
The use of various accessories can improve the performance of assault rifles in combat.
The AK-47 was not designed to mount any accessories, except the bayonet. Though some accessories were later developed for this weapon. The AK-47 can be fitted with a 25 mm under-barrel grenade launcher. The AK-47 has the capability to launch 22 mm rifle grenades by using an adapter. However, this capability is rarely used.
The M16 assault rifle can be fitted with a bayonet. This weapon was designed to mount a simple clamp-type bipod. It is also compatible with a 40 mm under-barrel grenade launcher. Furthermore, all M16 rifles can launch 22 mm rifle grenades without the use of an adapter. This assault rifle can also mount a 12 gauge shotgun under the barrel. With the advent of the Picatinny-type accessory rail, the M16 has proven to be an extremely adaptable weapon.
+ The M16 has an advantage in terms of accessories used.
Since its introduction was churned-out in millions. The SSSR was shipping giant caches of these weapons to its allies and friendly states. Also, several factories were established around the world to produce the AK-47, its copies, or clones. So the gun has spread all over the world. It also made a significant cultural impact. Mozambique even displays this gun on its flag.
The AK-47 and its derivatives are now used by the armed forces of around 100 countries. No one knows how many of these assault rifles are in circulation, but this number might approach 75 million units.
On the other hand, the M16 was more popular among countries, where the SSSR had less influence. The United States also supplied the M16 to its allies in large numbers. Around 8 million of these assault rifles were built. This weapon was also widely cloned and copied. The M16 and its derivatives are used by more than 70 countries. Also, the M16 is the most produced firearm in a 5.56mm caliber.
+ The AK-47 was produced in much larger numbers.
Although many variants are available for both the rifles, when comparing the base models, the AK-47 is significantly cheaper than the M16. The government price of the AK-47 can range from $150 to $200, depending on the manufacturer and contract. The government price of the M16 was $673 per new unit as of the U.S. Army’s 2012 contract.
+ The AK-47 is a much cheaper rifle to built than the M16.
M16 vs AK-47: Overall conclusion
To sum it up, both M16 and AK-47 have their own strengths and weaknesses. Both of these weapons continue to demonstrate their effectiveness. And both of these weapons remain in demand. The M16 has technical superiority in 3 key areas, including range, accuracy, and weight.
The AK-47 has a remarkable advantage of simple and easy to maintain construction. So, I guess it is a no-win situation. It depends on the user what he will choose.
- Wikipedia: AK-47
- Wikipedia: M16 Rifle
- Wikipedia: Comparison of the AK-47 and M16
- M-16: A Bureaucratic Horror Story – The Atlantic
- Which is better? -Yahoo Answers
- M-16 vs AK-47 one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com
- The Great Debates: AR-15 vs. AK-47 – cheaperthandirt.com
- Why did the AK-47 become so popular? – The Economist